Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Helix (barberpole) stripes, part 2 of a jogless stripe series

Helix or barberpole stripes are completely jogless, and, unlike nearly every other method of jogless stripes* may be made as narrow as a single row. Although this makes them incredibly useful in the right situation, they are somewhat of a pain to knit, which is why they probably aren't seen more often.

In their classic form,barberpole stripes are 1 row high, and usually 3 or 4 colors. Each stripe starts at a different point on the garment, then the stripes chase one another around the spiral architecture of the knitted garment, like the stripes on an old-fahioned barber pole. Because of this arrangement into spiral layers, the colors never meet on the same level, so there is no jog.

Barberpole stripes are usually made on double pointed needles (dpn’s). Here’s the ...

How to
  • Suppose we want three single-color stripes, as in the above photo. For three stripes, we'll use three needles for the work and a fourth to knit around. 
  • To determine the number to cast on, divide the total number of stitches by the total number of colors. Example: our little tube has 36 stitches and three colors, red, white and blue: 36÷3=12 stitches of each color. 
  • Onto needle 1, using white, cast on 1/3 the total number of stitches (12, in our example) Repeat onto needle 2 with blue and again onto 3 with red: 36 total stitches cast on, three needles with 12 stitches on each. If your total stitch count is not evenly divisible by your number of needles, no big deal—within a couple of stitches is OK. 
  • Choose your color arrangement: once chosen, it can never change--the same colors will chase one another around and around the spiral for the entire knitting of the garment. 

  • In the above illustration, the work began with each needle cast on with a different color.  Then, the white yarn was knit over the red, the red over the blue, and the blue over the white. In the next round the blue yarn was knitted over the white, the white over the red, and the red over the blue. Once the order is established, you simply pick up the yarn at the beginning of each needle and work until you come to the next color.
Tips and tricks 
  • No need to twist the stitches together: the different colors lay over one another, not next to one another
  • Consider using bobbins to avoid tangling
  • In theory, you can make spirals of more colors by using more needles. In practice, the steepness of the spiral and the tangling of the running yarns makes 4-5 colors the utmost practical limit, and really, two or three colors will prove challenging enough.
  • For a fabric with a single contrast color stripe, say, white with every 4th row blue (photo below) here’s how: Prepare 3 white bobbins and one of blue, then knit the whole works off 4 needles, working around with a fifth.  Knit each bobbin of white sequentially and individually, just as you would if using different colors. 

Better transitions using a"transition needle"

The above instructions segregate each color to its own needle, and this is easy to understand (and illustrate!) However, in real life, having several bobbins hanging off at different place would lead to tangling. Also, always changing colors at the same spot might create ladders. Finally, dropping the yarn and picking up a new one at the end of every needle makes for a very choppy knitting rhythm--not restful at all. In order to avoid these problems, here is a trick--
  • Once the pattern is established, choose one needle to be the “transition needle.” Knit each color almost all the way around the round, stopping three stitches from the previous color, on the "transition needle." 

  • In the above illustration, the blue stripe has just been finished three stitches from the end of the previous white round. Similarly, the white round finished three stitches from the red round, and the red, three stitches from the previous blue round. Now find the running yarn “lowest down and furthest out,” here, the red yarn picked out with the green arrow. Drop the blue running yarn to the front of the work, then slip the intervening stitches (black arrows) from left needle to right, purlwise (not twisted). 

  • The above illustration shows the six marked stitches as they have been slipped onto the right needle.  This frees the "lowest down and furthest out" yarn--the red running yarn--so you can knit the next almost-complete round with it. 
  • You would now knit with the red yarn, stopping three stitches from the end of the blue round. After knitting the red yarn, the next following round would be a white round, to be knitted with the white running yarn picked out by the green arrow in illustration 7. 
  • This transition shortcut works on magic loop and circular needles, also. 
  • Because the stopping point of the yarn is always moving backwards in your knitting, you avoid the ladders which would form if you always switched at the same spot, and you avoid the need for markers in magic loop or circular knitting. Of course, with dpn’s, you will have to re-arrange the stitches by slipping them around on your needles every few rounds in order to keep a roughly even number on each, but this is all to the good, as it also helps avoid ladders. 
  • As you can see from the comments, some knitters do not stop short, but knit all the way around to the very stitch where the previous yarn ended.  When I try that, I get tension strangeness, but knitting is SO different in different hands, so experiment: try stopping short as illustrated, but maybe also try knitting each round to the bitter end, and see which way works better for you!
  • When you end the work, space the colors out again as you did at cast on (one color per needle, lined up over the original round) so that the bind-off matches.
* * *
This is part 2 of a TECHknitting series on jogless stripes, based on an article which originally appeared in "Beyond the Basics," Interweave Knitting Magazine, Summer '09

The first post in this series, which features a video of various stripes, including barberpole stripes, is here.

If you would like to see a different blogger's take on barberpole stripes, have a look at Grumperina's posts on the subject featuring, among other things, a pair of helical-knit socks

Good knitting--TK

*Addendum 2016:  If you need to knit SINGLE ROUND STRIPES where each stripe is a DIFFERENT COLOR, then a different technique will work better: have a look at this post on "Smoothed Circles."